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Happy Birthday to 'wo'

  • Brandon Taylor and Marisha Thakur, a friend from the China Daily newspaper, enjoy a match between Russian Marat Safin and Argentinian Jose Acasuso at the China Open on Brandon's birthday.
    Brandon Taylor and Marisha Thakur, a friend from the China Daily newspaper, enjoy a match between Russian Marat Safin and Argentinian Jose Acasuso at the China Open on Brandon's birthday.
Published November 14. 2009 09:00AM

BLOGGER'S NOTE: "Wo" is Mandarin for "I" or "me"

As Oct. 6 drew near, I found myself in a state of near panic. It was a date I should have been looking forward to a time of joy and celebration but was now one I had begun to fear. Oct. 6 is my birthday.

The cause for anxiety didn't surround the typical reasons for despising one's own birthday: getting old, assuming more responsibilities and, in my case, drawing closer to the day when I, like my father and male relatives of old, begin to lose hair. No, my pre-birthday angst came from the fact that I might not be celebrating my birthday at all.

In recent years, this would have come as a relief. I've mostly lost interest in birthdays, particularly my own. Each year simply adds a new digit to my age and the expected text message from my younger brother proclaiming "Happy Birthday you ole geezer." This year, because of my cross-Pacific location, his response was limited to an e-card. The greeting was the same.

Four years of college made birthdays all but meaningless, since birthday parties were always overshadowed by the fact that every weekend was a party in and of itself. Last year, I was even on duty at my school's newspaper I didn't complain, it's just part of the job on my birthday eve.

I had higher expectations for a birthday in China. Where could we go? What are typical birthday traditions here? And will there be cake?

One of my American friends in Beijing suggested we celebrate by visiting the Great Wall. The thought of celebrating at one of my favorite historic locations in China made me abandon my anti-birthday stance altogether.

Since the plan sounded so great, naturally, it fell apart quickly. Work schedules and holiday traveling left few of my Beijing friends, and even my roommates, available for birthday celebrating.

While I may not like big parties, I still enjoy getting together with a few friends for some minor birthday recognition. It seemed I was the only one who had nothing to do, except celebrate alone.

A few days before Oct. 6, I got an e-mail. It wasn't an early birthday e-card, as a few messages had started to arrive, but a response from one of my friends I'd met while interning at the China Daily. I'd assumed she had work, since my other China Daily friends would be busy producing the daily newspaper, but as it turned out she too had no plans.

Since a Great Wall trip would be too expensive for just two people, I suggested a daylong excursion to the China Open, the Chinese equivalent of the U.S. Open tennis tournament. Tickets were only 100 yuan ($14) and the list of tennis pros competing was all-inclusive.

Another friend from the China Daily would also be joining us his trip to Inner Mongolia had been cancelled.

All was set. I wouldn't be blowing out my birthday candles alone.

Unexpectedly, on the morning of Oct. 5, my Chinese roommate, Vivian, caught me off guard with a big "Shengri kuaile," Happy Birthday in Chinese. Since she had to work the next day, we would celebrate my birthday a day early. Later that evening, Vivian, her boyfriend and a co-worker took me out to dinner. There was even cake. They sang Happy Birthday simultaneously in a jumbled mess of English and Chinese as I blew out the candles. The cake was delicious.

The China Open the next day was equally surprising. Arriving around 11 a.m., my birthday crew made its way to the center court. Despite not knowing who would be playing that day the schedule had not been announced the day quickly turned into sheer tennis bliss. After watching Marat Safin win a quick morning game, we watched Maria Sharapova duke it out in a three-hour match, saw Andy Roddick fail miserably in two sets and later witnessed Rafael Nadal make a comeback from the jaws of defeat in an early evening game.

It was dark by the time the matches ended and I had started shivering from the cold, having left my jacket at home since I didn't anticipate spending the whole day at the tournament. But to see all my favorite tennis pros was worth the temporary chills.

A week later, with the excitement still present from my birthday bonanza, I finished the last piece of my cake. I had tried to savor it for as long as possible, but it would soon get stale. The last bite was bittersweet. I had feared my birthday would be a total letdown, but it had turned out to be one of the better celebrations in recent memory.

A party at the Great Wall would have been nice, but I was more than pleased with the birthday dinner and opportunity to see an afternoon of tennis matches amongst my list of tennis VIPs. I just thought it was ironic that I had to travel all the way to China to see them play.

An unexpected greeting

The other day I received a card in the mail. It was delivered to my work address. At first, I thought it was a mistake, but then I thought "How many Brandon Taylor's can there be in China?"

It was a birthday card from my Aunt Laurie, and a most unexpected one indeed. My birthday this year had been dominated by the e-card, since mailing letters, not to mention packages, can be expensive.

It was a standard birthday card but it made my day. I showed my Chinese colleagues, who had been unaware that I had had a birthday, since it fell over the Mid-Autumn Festival week when we didn't work.

One of my co-workers said I was very lucky to have family that cares about me.

Yes, I am lucky. Very lucky, I said.

(Brandon Taylor is a language consultant/foreign expert for the Beijing Review, an English language weekly newsmagazine in Beijing, China. A former correspondent for the TIMES NEWS. Read Brandon's blog at http://btay200. He can be reached at

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